PHOTO BY GARY CLARK
PHOTO BY STERLING MUNKSGARD
Rapidly gaining praise in the world of instrumental rock and beyond, Gretchen Menn isn’t your average guitar hero on the rise. She once flew regional jets to support her six-string habit. She has studied, in equal parts, the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Steve Morse, Frank Zappa, and Jimmy Page. (Regarding the latter composer, she performs the music of Led Zeppelin all over the U.S. with Zepparella.) Perhaps Michael Molenda, Guitar Player Magazine’s editor-in-chief, described Gretchen’s solo music best when he said that she “seeks the unknown by blending disparate jazz, prog, and world-music influences into a tasty, guitaristic thrill ride.”
Gretchen’s second solo album, Abandon All Hope, was just released in December, 2016. A concept album based on Dante’s Inferno, it marks a significant evolution in her compositions as well as guitar playing. Since the release of her first solo album, Hale Souls, in July of 2011, Gretchen immersed herself in study to expand her skills not just on the guitar, but in composition and orchestration. The result with Abandon All Hope is an almost double album-length work of intensely compositional, instrumental music which evokes the epic journey through Dante’s circles of the underworld. Accompanying the music is original libretto text from Michael Molenda and haunting images from Max Crace.
Apart from demolishing her mother’s violin with Pete Townshend-like vehemence at age three, Gretchen’s passion for all things guitar didn't fully surface until her early teenage years. It was under the tutelage of classical guitarist Phillip de Fremery, a student of Andrés Segovia, that Gretchen began her path on the instrument. Her father, noted writer and former editor-in-chief of Guitar Player Magazine, Don Menn, was quick to point her in the direction of the greats as soon as she expressed interest in guitar.
While earning a degree in music at Smith College, Gretchen’s adventurous approach to her education would foreshadow her approach to the guitar. She convinced a professor to allow her to launch a special studies project on the music of Frank Zappa. Her analyses of “The Sheik Yerbouti Tango” and “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress” showed an interest in genre-bending composition that would manifest later in her original instrumentals.
After college, Gretchen began considering her career path, and how she might prevent a situation she sought to avoid: tainting her love of music with the necessity of paying rent. The solution? She went directly from college to flight school, and two years later was flying regional jets for the airlines. Yet she was never without her guitar, and after a year at the airlines she found the life incompatible with the focus she needed to truly pursue music. So she relinquished her position in the jet and embarked on a more direct approach to her musical goals.
She joined various musical projects and constantly sought out new challenges. In 2007, she recorded Unbreakable Strings with Sticks and Stones, a high-energy, instrumental trio. In 2010, she played in Lapdance Armageddon, an aggressive acoustic duo with Jude Gold. In 2011 she wrote, produced, and recorded her first solo album, Hale Souls. She continues to tour internationally with Zepparella.
Gretchen continues to study guitar, composition, and orchestration.
Lapdance Armageddon (2010)
Conversation with Francis Bakin (2009)
STICKS AND STONES
Unbreakable Strings (2007)
THE HOUSE OF MORE
The House of More (2006)